As the field of sport psychology and mental training for peak performance gains interest, it’s important to decode some of the buzzwords commonly used in the literature and every day sport psych talk. When you understand the real meaning behind these terms, it can be easier for you to internalize the concept and decide for yourself whether specific mental training could help your personal performance.
Here are three sport psychology terms you most likely have heard in training or competition. I’ll provide a quick description of each term, how they influence peak performance, and some things to consider as these terms relate to your personal performance.
The best and simplest way to define motivation is the direction and intensity of your effort. What activities do you seek out, approach, and are attracted to? For you, it might be a group fitness class, any outdoor activity, or competitive events. Whatever you choose to pursue refers to the direct of your effort. Sage, G. (1977). Introduction to motor behavior: a neuropsychological appraoch (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
The intensity of your effort refers to how much energy you devote to the activity you’re pursuing. You might show up to a group fitness class and do your best to perform well on some exercises more than others. For outdoor activities, you may exert optimal effort only when you like the weather conditions. For competitive events, you may be overly motivated and exert too much intensity resulting in poor performance.
Think about the activities you choose to pursue and why. Ask yourself how seldom you miss a session, arrive on time, and expend great effort while participating. If you are happy with your overall participation and contribution, be happy with your motivation. Conversely, if you believe you could be more motivated, you may want to explore other activities where you could exhibit optimal effort and discover peak performance.
Whenever you are creating or recreating experiences in your mind, you are using visualization (or what sport psychology experts refer to as imagery Weinberg, R.S. & Gould, D. (2011) Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (5th ed.).[annotation/]). Although there are many kinds of imagery and reasons for developing the skill that may enhance performance, athletes of all types use previous positive experiences or “image” new situations to mentally prepare for an upcoming performance.
As you begin or continue to use imagery in your mental training program, do your best to incorporate all of your senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and kinesthetic feel). A poly-sensory imagery practice can give you the best shot at creating more vivid experiences in your mind that can only help to make them come true in real life. Take running, for example, the best imagery practice is when you can see the running path in front of you. You can hear the wind, people talking, or your music playlist. You can smell the rain, grass, city, beach, or mountain air. You feel your heart rate monitor around your chest or the shoes on your feet, and kinesthetically feel your body as it moves in different positions. The next time you participate in your sport or fitness activity, take notice of all of your senses so that you can recreate the sensory experience when you practice your imagery for peak performance.
Have you ever been healthy but still felt physically and mentally drained in training or competition? It’s like you’ve hit a brick wall and just don’t feel like doing anything anymore. Every push-up is a chore. Every mile is a struggle. This effect is sometimes referred to as “workout burnout.”
Burnout comes in many forms but is often characterized by emotional and sometimes physical withdrawal from an activity due to factors such as stress or boredom. Athletes that are burnt out might lose interest in their activity or start to think negatively about themselves and their performance.
Some great ways to reduce the likelihood that you will burn out is to participate in activities you simply love to do in addition to those you do for the functional benefit (like supplementing running with cross-training). Reward yourself for the effort you exert and not just for the results you achieve. Take rest days as needed. Finally, ask for social support by reaching out and sharing your experiences. And if you’re feeling more than just burnt out, consult a professional.
As you continue to learn more about sport psychology and mental training, you’ll come across more terms that, when fully understood and then incorporated into your daily practice routine, can enhance your personal achievements. There’s a reason why athletes and coaches are becoming increasingly interested in this field. If it can help them achieve their goals, it may help you too!
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What sport psychology buzzwords do you hear most often?